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Authors: Jennie Bates Bozic

Damselfly (6 page)

BOOK: Damselfly
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I glance upward at the gently curving slope, and discouragement overwhelms me. Even if there is a hole, it will probably take me days to find it unless I’m very lucky. I wipe my eyes and blink hard to fight the tears. I can’t cry now. I
will not
cry now.

But my tears are not interested in obeying me. They run down my cheeks as I flutter along the wall, testing the strength of the fibers, trying to determine what or who could get through this fence. When I try to slip my fingers under one of the fibers, I’m met with failure. They are so tight, so strong, I can’t see any way I could ever pull a hole apart myself. Maybe a rodent could. I’m not sure. I’m probably better off checking along the ground.

I look over my shoulder to check for drones and spot several flying in formation in the distance. A sparrow bursts from the trees, and the drones give chase for a moment before something else corrects them. They’re not on auto-pilot anymore.

“No,” I whisper. I kick the wall in frustration and fly downwards with my hand on the wall the whole way. Gleaming silver meets ground and I run along the edge searching for somewhere to hide. Maybe if I can find a molehill, the coolness of the earth will mask my body heat and confuse their sensors just enough that whoever controls the drones won’t realize I’m here.

I race across the weeds. Blades of grass switch at my feet as I look for any sign of an opening.

The crack of breaking twigs and leaves breaks the silence, and I look above in time to see the drones crashing through the canopy and heading right toward me. A shower of debris falls onto the leaves, and I have to make a decision. Run or hide?

Now. Make a decision now, Lina.

I dive headfirst toward the intersection of wall and ground. I fold my wings behind me and unfurl them just before hitting the ground. The impact knocks the wind out of me. Gasping, I roll as close to the wall as possible with my wings against the fence. I wedge myself into the dirt, then lie as flat as I can so the drones won’t have much to grab on to.

Four of the them fan out to block off all possible escape routes while the remaining one draws closer. I can almost hear its mechanical little brain trying to process the situation and determine the best way to get me out of my half-dug grave.

I close my eyes and bury my face in the dirt. I try to ignore the strange metallic noises as they hover like a band of children encircling a frightened animal, ready to poke me with sticks.

Jack’s face appears inside my head. I grab onto him with all my strength, and my gaze holds his without apology.
I need you now!
I yell at him. He understands. He smiles as though nothing is wrong, as if his existence can make all the bad go away. We fool each other that way sometimes.

Something cold touches my foot, and I scream so hard Jack fades away into blackness. The sound crushes out everything but me and the drones. I pick up my head to see the closest one prodding at me with a long, mechanical arm.

“Stop touching me,” I hiss at Dr. Christiansen. I know she can hear me.

The drone doesn’t care about respecting my personal space. It prods my calves, the back of my knees, my thighs…

That is going too far. My rage overpowers my fear, and I spring up from the ground and seize hold of the plastic “hand” that was violating me. I wrap my legs around the arm and snap the hand off. The drone tries to pull away with stuttering movements, but I am too angry to be beaten. I crawl up the arm to the gaping belly, but I don’t go inside. The other arm snatches at me, but I am invincible now. If it grabs me, I will tear it apart with pure willpower.

I scramble up the side, its heat burning my legs and palms as I struggle to find handholds beneath the peeling yellow and black paint. I can’t just fly over because it might out-maneuver me and then I’ll really be screwed.

On top, a red light glows at the very center of its dome—the heat sensor. I crawl over to it and dig my fingers into the screws.

And I sit on it.

The drone whirrs in circles, confused. It pulls its arms inside its belly and then it does something I don’t expect.

It flips. And we’re not talking about a graceful aerial move; it tosses me into the air and then the other end spanks me toward the earth.

I get a quick face-full of grass before the ground punches my lights out.

Chapter 5

The world is watercolors all mixing together, as though the artist put too much water in the paint. Blues and greens and browns swim lazily out of the black canvas. Then the blackness pushes through again with glints of yellow.

The glints are coming for me.

I try to stand, but my head is so heavy. I can only remember snippets of the last few hours. Words like paralyze, drones, cat, Jack.

Drones. Black color, black sounds. They’re pushing out all of the greens and blues. Their heat presses toward me.

Something crashes through the forest, shattering twigs and dried-up leaves. The drones hesitate, then float away.

Now George’s face is far too close to mine. My eyes are working better, and I almost wish they weren’t.

“Lina!” His voice is a knife in my skull. My whole body winces as he scoops me up with gentle hands. His callouses are sandpaper against my skin, and I feel their every ridge.

This time he whispers when he speaks. “Hold on. I’ll get you to the compound so we can fix you up.”

His words remind me why I’m out here, why the drones were chasing me. I sit up straight in his hand. “No.”

“What?”

“I won’t go back there.”

He sighs. For the first time, I notice gray in his whiskers. “But where would you go, pixie? Hmm?”

“Does it matter? Anywhere is better than here. You heard her—she won’t even let me out when I’m an adult! This place is a prison.” The leaves are turning into swimming paints again. I lie down again to give the world a chance to return to normal.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad…?” George’s voice trails off into a question. He doesn’t believe his own words.

“Yes. It will. It’s not going to get better. And now my computer’s gone, too, and that’s the only thing that was…keeping me going.” My admission shocks me. I didn’t realize it was true until I said it.

George’s mouth pinches into a line, and pain radiates in his eyes. He’s bent over backward to make life pleasant for me all these years. I’ve hurt his feelings, but I can’t unsay those words. We both know I meant it.

“I will get you another computer,” he says. He starts walking again. “I will hide it better this time.”

I bite on my finger to distract myself from the tears. A new computer won’t fix everything that’s gone wrong.

“I promise,” George says. “After your birthday, I’ll get you another one. Now will you let me take you to get fixed up?”

He looks down at me, and I nod. His fingers curl gently around me to keep me from falling out of his hand.

Sun splits the trees and slices into my eyes. I cover my face with my hands and will myself to sleep. Exhaustion and nausea take over, and I fade away into dreams.

***

When I wake, the world is fluorescent and dirt-tinged white. I’m still groggy, but my head no longer hurts.

“You slept for twenty hours,” says Dr. Christiansen. Her face steps into view. “I trust you will not do that again.”

“What—sleep for a whole day?” It’s hard to talk around the cotton dryness in my mouth. “Can I have some water?”

She nods her head toward a small bottle next to me. I grab it and suck down its contents. The cold gives me an instant headache.

“Fortunately for all of us, there was no permanent damage done. I’ve now inserted a tracking microchip under your skin so the insubordination of yesterday will not be repeated. Stand up please.”

I stand, but I glare as I do so. I rub my hands over my arms, trying to find the “bug” they put into me. Without my permission.

“Your special birthday dinner is this evening. In—” She checks her watch. “—five hours. All of the Toms will be there to meet you. Your biological donors will make an appearance as well. As for your…clothing, I have placed some items for you to wear in your home. Please make sure you shut your door next time. Jane spent half an hour cleaning the bugs out.”

“Fine.”

“Do not be late,” she warns as I fly out the door.

Or what? Will you cook me and eat me?

Once I’m outside, the fatigue forces me to slow down. I must have hit my head harder than I thought. I bring my fingers to my face; my cheeks are still hot and tender to the touch. I imagine Dr. Christiansen pulled out all of the medical stops to fix me up as much as possible for the dinner so I won’t embarrass her. She’s probably selected some ridiculously frothy dress for me to wear.

Whatever.

My stomach churns out rage, filling me with heat and fury. My anger gives me fuel to fly. I reach my house without returning any of the greetings of the workers. They’re part of all of this…this trap. I check on my garden only to find it’s been trampled by Jane. Stupid Jane who doesn’t know the first thing about beauty. Jane who experiments on helpless cats. Jane who thought I was dumb enough to fall for her pretend concern. And to think I used to like her.

I fling open my front door. The inside is tidy, but the wallpaper—from Italy!—below the ceiling crack is warped and crinkled from water damage. I kick the front door shut as hard as I can. It doesn’t slam hard enough to satisfy me, so I reopen it and kick it shut again. And again. And again.

Open, kick, slam. My vision drowns in tears. Open, kick, slam.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Open, kick, slam.
I hate her. I do.
An angry sob burbles out, complete with spit strings. I slip down to the floor, exhausted.

The irritating, saner part of me reminds me I don’t really hate anyone, not even Dr. Christiansen.
Yes, I do!
my angry part shouts back. But they’re fading now, disintegrating into despair and leaving me nothing to hang onto except this unworkable, horrid situation that has no solution. What sort of human being forces someone else to pick a spouse out of a lineup? And it’s not even fair to the Toms. I mean, there are six of them.

Now that I think about it, why are there six of them and only one of me? That doesn’t make any sense.

I stare at the floor, my mind numb.

“What do I do?”

The silence doesn’t answer. A squirrel chitters in the distance.

I pull my knees up and drop my forehead against them. I have to think of something. I can’t give in so easily.

After a few quiet moments, I stand. My head is clearer, my emotions more balanced, but I still feel fragile as glass.

Might as well check out the outfit I have to wear tonight. I sigh and walk into my bedroom, an explosion of reds and purples and oranges with twisty pieces of furniture made of grapevines. Normally the cheerful decor makes me happy. Today it’s almost offensive.

The puffy, white abomination of a dress lies across my bed. It looks like a cheap wedding gown that was hacked off at the knees. The beads are almost as big as my head, and the fabric so stiff the dress won’t even lie flat.

The only way I will ever wear this is if I’m dead.

I toss it on the floor and step back with arms folded. I’m so tired of dealing with Dr. Christiansen, but I can’t let her win this one. I have to think of something else to wear or some way to alter…

My eyes flit up to the vibrant shades on the wall. That’s it! I run out to the kitchen, grab one of my razor knives and return to my bedroom where my full-length mirror hangs. I grab a chunk of blond frizz and hold it out.

Do I really want to do this? I’m one snip from the point of no return. One snip from a considerably shorter mane.

With a deep breath, I slice off a two-inch lock and wait for the feeling of panic to come. It doesn’t. Instead, relief and excitement wash over me in a giddy mix. I make quick work of the rest and then survey the damage.

In the mirror, a teenaged girl with chin-length hair smiles back at me. I add some inexpert and probably uneven layers to it, and I’ve got myself a brand-new hairstyle. My neck feels deliciously bare and cool. I wish I’d done this much sooner.

Next, I dig out my homemade dyes from the craft stash in the living room. I keep them in old perfume sample bottles. Green, orange, brown…
there’s
the purple! I take the bottle to the bathroom, put the stopper in the sink and apply the entire batch of dye to my freshly cropped hair.

I leave it in for a solid hour then wash it out in my stone bathtub. Rivulets of lavender run down my arms and create a pool on the floor that seems as though it was touched by the sunset. After a good scrub and towel dry, I check out my dye job in the mirror.

My hair is a vivid candy purple. I blurt out a laugh and then stand there staring at it with a huge smile on my face. One giant drop of watery dye heads straight for my eyes, but I whisk it away just in time. My skin looks almost white next to the brightness of the purple.

Oh, Dr. Christiansen is going to
love
this.

Now for the dress. I pick it up gingerly with two fingers. The beads have to go. So do all of the petticoats underneath. Where did she get this—a doll shop?

I get my sewing scissors, the ones I made with George’s help. They’re small enough to fit in my hand, and they could slice through a grape without even denting it first. I snip a few threads, and the beads tumble to the floor. Several more snips later, the petticoats are lying in a discarded pile.

Now for the color. Dr. Christiansen must have chosen white to symbolize my supposed upcoming nuptials with one of the clowns I’ll be meeting tonight. I’m supposed to look girlish and sweet and innocent. Positively bridal. I have nothing against being any of those things, but I won’t be them just because it’s what the doctor ordered.

This calls for black dye. I gather all I have and mix it with the remaining purple in the tub before submerging the dress in my concoction. When I pull the dress out an hour later, it’s a dark gray. Not quite black, but a far cry from bridal white.

It’ll do.

BOOK: Damselfly
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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